Internet – The Transition of Everything from Atoms to Bits

We are the first generation in all of human history to hold in our hands the technology to reach every man, woman, and child on earth. Although the product price points are not yet in place, this is not a distant dream. It is a current reality. Market forces in technology are driving us forward.

Perhaps the place to begin is an understanding that the Internet—the world of bits—is a real place, just like any physical place constructed of atoms. It cannot be ignored since it is inhabited by over one billion human beings in every country on earth. It has grown by about one million people every day. They communicate, buy and sell, socialize, obtain knowledge, get directions, seek medical answers, buy products, and even look for God on the Internet. They live in the world of cyberspace so much so that they no longer view the Internet, the smart phone, or their laptop as a technology. They view it as an ordinary, everyday tool.

It’s not one or the other. Bits or atoms. It’s now both; but for many, the transition takes some time. In the early 1990s corporate CEOs responded by saying, “Yes, we have an Internet site. We’re in the world of cyberspace.” But did they really leverage the power of bits? Did they really understand? No. Did they acquire new customers, increase revenue, improve distribution, collaborate with suppliers, communicate internally, or make process faster, better, and cheaper? No. They viewed it as a technology—bits—that did not integrate into their world of atoms. So they left it to the eggheads and went about business as usual.

Dismissing emerging technologies left space for new competitors and alternate channels for consumers looking for a better deal. Amazon sold books at a fraction of the cost the brick-and-mortar retailers were asking. Buyers went to Internet sites like Edmunds instead of to dealers to get the real story on automobile pricing. People wanted answers they could trust and slowly authority began to swing toward Google and other sources on the Internet. The car salesman in the yellow plaid jacket who sometimes colored the truth was now history. eBay created the biggest flea market in the world. Politicians circumvented the media by running their own blogs and raising millions of dollars over a weekend on the Internet. Authority and learning has shifted to the Internet.

Although certain products of atoms will never be replaced by bits, they are becoming eclipsed by bits. The average automobile contains about $800USD in steel, but over $2,000USD in computer chips containing information, and we are still in the early stages of integrating bits into cars. The typical smart phone has little more than a few dollars invested in atoms, but the bits drive all of the functionality and the greater cost.

The business term to describe the shift from atoms to bits is called radical discontinuity. Basically, it is change that happens so fast that we don’t know how to describe it or even forecast it. It would be a huge mistake to think the Church is immune to this development. It is not. Many seekers across the world have shifted to information on the Internet instead of going to a place called church. People are looking for God in the world of bits, not atoms. The Internet is now becoming the funnel into the church. If you are not using the Internet to conduct real ministry, then you don’t exist to the current generation of seekers—two million daily!

The Biblical Case for Action
“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, “when will this happen, and when will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’” (Matthew 24:3). The Lord described the increasing chaos of the last days and then came to one of several definitive statements describing what we will see in the last days. “And this gospel will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations … and then the end shall come” (24:14).

Jesus was not describing a 2,000-year journey; he zeroed in on the happenings of the last days to answer the disciples’ question. How would we preach, or make the gospel available, to the whole world—all seven to ten billion people (depending upon the number of days left), if we do not leverage emerging mass communication technologies? There are simply no longer enough Christians to meet the demand of an exploding population.1

For example, Google executives suggest that some two million people conduct a search on spiritual terms every day. That’s what we can measure for the Internet world of one billion people. So if there are two million daily searches out of one billion Internet users, then out of 5.5 billion people in the world, there must be eleven or twelve million people who wake up every day looking for God. Most have no intention of ever going to a church. Some could be arrested or killed for seeking Christ openly. We must make the gospel available and actionable on computers, laptops, and hand-held devices to communicate privately in words and videos in native language. We must minister to the masses seeking God.

Bits were not invented here in Silicon Valley, California. They are part of the natural landscape created by God as described in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Bits have always been here. Why? For what reason? When Jesus spoke of the endtime, did he see the digital age? Of course he did. Consider Paul’s description of the supremacy of Christ in Colossians 1:16: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible … all things were created by him and for him” (emphasis mine). “How short are the days?” is the wrong question. “How do we preach the gospel to the whole world?” is the question before us.

The Journey Begins
At Global Media Outreach (GMO, we describe our mission as not telling people about Jesus or Christianity, but telling them how to have a relationship with the Lord. Every three seconds someone comes to one of our seventy-eight evangelistic websites and receives a gospel presentation.

Visitors come from every country in the world since bits do not know, understand, or care about political borders. Bits do not care about time, place, or space. They are not place-specific, but person-specific. At the same time, however, bits carry us into a real place not restricted by the old world of atoms. The grasping of this concept is of critical importance to the implementation of interactive engagement with people in need, no matter where they are or who they are. In a typical month, well over one million people visit our websites. They come from places that cause us to consult a map to find out where they are. In a typical month, well over 200,000 of them will indicate their decision to follow Christ; that’s more than two million decisions in a year.

People in Crisis
Many of these are people in crisis. The pollster George Barna reports that approximately one-third of any community—the one you work in, the one you live in, the one you visit on a business trip—are in crisis; however, they will not go to church, believing there are no answers to be found there. They come to us around the clock, wanting to tell of their problems and issues. They come seeking relief from the pain, and they come seeking comfort, not knowing there is a comforter who loves them. A few examples of what we see each day follow:

  • “Please pray for my emotional healing. My 5-year-old daughter died a few weeks ago in a car accident. I was raising her alone. I have attempted to take my life two times these past weeks. I am in a care facility. I am not a Christian, but know God will hear your prayers on my behalf.” – young woman in England

  • “I'm thirty-two and I've never been so lost in my life. I just want to give up and die; the only thing that keeps me going is my 7-year-old son. I need help. I do not know how to start or what to do.” – woman in Nice, France
  • “I have never been a Christian. I was born and raised as an atheist. Your simple message that I found by Googling ‘Jesus’ and pressing ‘feeling lucky' led me to your site. It answered some basic questions for me. Have I come to the right place? Did I get lucky? Thanks for anything you can do for me. I have avoided ‘Jesus freaks’ and slick pastors my whole life. Why is Jesus calling to me now? I have heard his voice, and received an invitation that I did not ask for. I must now turn to others for more answers, so that I might find what I have always sought. I just prayed to receive Christ as my savior for the first time.” – Everett the seeker
  • “I began to weep as I read your email. I am so grateful that you took the time to respond back to me. It’s two a.m. and I’ve read the scriptures you sent. I put down the gun.”–young man in southern California

The Next Steps
Seekers who respond online to the invitation to know Christ are enrolled to receive an automatic 30-day devotional. This gets a new believer into the scriptures immediately. He or she is simultaneously introduced to www.iChristian Life.com, which, along with their GMO online missionary, begins the discipleship journey and eventual connection to a church or a Christian movement within his or her country. Internet technologies provide us with the ability to track the progress of new believers.

These responses demonstrate the power of the anonymous intimacy provided by the Internet. They demonstrate the value of a safe place to go. They demonstrate the power of the ministry our thousands of online missionaries conduct each day. These responses also demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit of God in cyberspace. It is, after all, a place God created for these days.

It is our calling and vision to reach every man, woman, and child on earth. As we look at the future, we view technology not as a snapshot, but as a rapidly moving video running at super speed. We see newly-developing (silicon) chip sets making new things possible almost monthly. We see acceleration here in Silicon Valley that has not been seen before. Knowledge, capacity, and scale are exploding.

We now see the day when everyone will own or have access to a very inexpensive hand-held smart thing—one that speaks, shows movies, takes pictures, plays music, connects to other people, and tells him or her the story of Jesus. Apple’s iPhone technology is a glimpse into the future. It is a not a phone; it is a network computer. Like dawn coming over the horizon, we are now close enough to see the day when we will tell every man, woman, and child on earth the story of Jesus. The fields are white…the days are short…we have the technology.

“Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” – Habakkuk 1:5

Endnote

1. According to the Barna Research group, Christianity has grown at such a slow rate that Christians are not even winning their own children. While the population of the United States has grown by twenty-five million in the past fifteen years, church membership has declined by five million.


Walt Wilson is founder and chairman of Global Media Outreach, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ International. A retired Silicon Valley businessman, he was a sales manager at Fairchild Semiconductor, a start up executive at Apple Computer, finishing his career as a senior vice president with Computer Sciences Corp., managing business development in Asia.